The Thing About Selling Stocks Is, You're Forced To Buy Something Else

I’m only 3/4’s of the way serious with that headline, but I’m about to make a pretty profound point so hold your comments until I get there…

Flip through this weekend’s issue of Barron’s and you’ll see headlines like these:  Stocks At A 19 Month High and Investors Are Getting Giddy Again and The Old Normal and We’ve Filled The Lehman Gap, etc.  All great reads, by the way, and all appropriately cautious and accurate.

But they miss the point.

The thing about selling stocks right now is, it forces you to do something else with your money.  And that’s not necessarily a good thing these days.  Your options are as follows…

a.  Bonds: Right, because there are other options for interest rates besides ‘higher’ in the near future.  Oh, and these lovely headlines from municipalities across the country telling us how prisoners will be fed to firefighters to reduce budgets sure do inspire confidence!

b.  Commodities: Incredibly correlated with stocks of late, to the point where you could actually say “why bother, half dozen of one, 6 of the other” and not sound ignorant.

c.  Cash: “Act now and receive 2 shiny basis points of yield with every purchase!  But wait – there’s more: here at the Treasury, we’re making a concerted effort to reduce your greenback’s purchasing power every day!”  No thanks.

d.  Real Estate: For people who already own the house they’re living in, the idea of additional real estate as an investment inspires a memory-of-genocide-esque cry of “Never Again”.  Wanna be a contrarian?   Go buy a four square mile section of Detroit and let me know when the Renaissance happens.

e.  Foreign Currency: Well, you have the stronger currencies (Canada, Aussie, Brazil) but they are only from commodity-exporting countries.  Then you have the exploding volcano science fair project gone awry that we call the Euro – Non, merci.  The Yen is interesting – supposedly Japan will now experiment with negative interest rates to spur, well, anything.  Swiss francs, British pounds…maybe, but in size?  Nah.

f.  Gold: Just another speculation, in many ways it acts like stocks do anyway.  Oh, and old-timers beware, the new reality for gold is that most of it is in the hands of the stock market anyway through those Van Eck ETF monstrosities.  If you think that gold’s price or supply/demand picture would be safe from an equity market sell-off, then call Jeff Foxworthy because you are not, in fact, smarter than a fifth grader.

g.  Personal Use: Yes, during the recession you’ve put off the purchase of that $6500 authentic replica Wurlitzer Jukebox, the one with the rainbow and gilt-inlaid casing and the vintage mechanical record-selection arm.  Good boy.  But the thing is, you have learned these past two years how easy it is to live without buying stuff like that – and with so much uncertainty in the jobs and housing data, it just doesn’t quite feel like splurging time yet.

Bonds, dollars, currencies, real estate, gold, tchotchkes…as much as equity markets have run, do any of these other options for your capital make you want to sell your stocks?

That’s the thing, you could sell your stocks after the big run-up we’ve had, but you may end up buying them back when you consider the alternatives.  You might even end up having to chase them.

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